Proverbs 4:20–27, 6:16–19; Matthew 15:1–20comment (0)
January 19, 2006
By Don Sandley
Related Scripture: Proverbs Proverbs 4:20–27, 6:16–19
Family Bible Study
Chair of Theatre, Samford University; Southwestern Seminary graduate
Proverbs 4:20–27, 6:16–19; Matthew 15:1–20
You have undoubtedly heard the saying “a man’s character is revealed by what he does when he is alone.” Coaches are fond of this old chestnut, but it is consistent with the teachings of Jesus on the subject of character.
Christ made it clear to those who listened that the choices we make must be rooted in our own hearts, not in the law that prescribes or proscribes our behavior. While the idea of criminal punishment as a deterrent to crime is an interesting sociological argument, it has nothing to do with what Christ taught us about character. The Christ-like model for character is one of attitude and tending to the relationships in God’s Kingdom.
Matthew 15 gives us a wonderful guide to the nature of character. Jesus sets the true character of the believer against the petty dietary laws emphasized by the leaders of His day. Christ says that the food we eat is with us and then gone but the things that damage relationships are the products of our hearts and minds. We should therefore focus our energy on repairing our own hearts first.
Christ says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts.” That is not something any of us want to hear. After all, it is much easier to blame someone or something else — society, laws, parents or the church — for our moral failings. The bottom line, however, is quite different. We are the stewards of our own heart and our own behavior. We must take responsibility and embrace the values of our Creator.
Proverbs 6:17–19 says, “A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that are swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among brethren.” As we look at this list that the Proverbs writer tells us is what the Lord considers abominations, we find that every single one of those items has to do with how we treat those around us.
Now, obviously, Proverbs is replete with advice on subjects like drinking, sexuality and family relationships. But this passage uses very strong language and highlights these issues of character as being especially important.
Why? Conflict, and the creation of conflict, is the great enemy of God’s peace because God’s Kingdom is made up of relationships and of His creation living together, with Him, in love and providence. Character is defined in this Proverbs passage as the choice to love your God and neighbor first and to resist the temptation to create discord.
Think how different our lives would be if we actually took this seriously. We would change our work environment, our church polity and the way we do national politics.
So where do we start? How do we find the type of character God wants from us? Proverbs 4 says, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” What the writer of Proverbs is talking about is discipline.
I am the world’s worst when it comes to social discipline. My actor training has conditioned me to be responsive and volatile. I say the first thing that comes to my mind without a filter. These traits don’t mesh well with the kind of discipline needed to be a person of Christ-like character. Self-discipline asks me to consider first the consequences of what I do or say to others. Ask yourself, “If I say this, who gets hurt and what does it accomplish?”
Before you make a business decision, consider the effects on the community first and then the profit margin after. I know this does not seem to mesh with the world of business practice or the family structures we see depicted in film and television.
Christ never proposed that we be like the world, but He did call us to be in the world and to change it by the way we display character of an eternal nature.